Fdd's overnight brief

January 19, 2021

In The News


Massive blackouts and smog have hit cities across Iran. It’s a toxic mix as the country, already under economic duress and suffocating U.S. sanctions, simultaneously battles the region’s worst coronavirus outbreak. – Washington Post

Washington’s European allies hope the incoming Biden administration will take swift steps to restore the Iran nuclear deal amid mounting pressures, including Tehran’s boost in uranium enrichment and elections later this year that could usher in a more hard-line government. – Washington Post

A lot of the characters are the same for President-elect Joe Biden but the scene is far starker as he reassembles a team of veteran negotiators to get back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. – Associated Press

Iran’s military kicked off a ground forces drill on Tuesday along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, state TV reported, the latest in a series of snap exercises that the country is holding amid escalating tensions over its nuclear program and Washington’s pressure campaign against Tehran. – Associated Press

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday dismissed a claim by France that Tehran was in the process of building up its nuclear weapons, calling it “absurd nonsense”. – Reuters

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on companies in Iran, China and the United Arab Emirates for doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and on three Iranian entities over conventional arms proliferation. – Reuters

Iran called on the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog to avoid publicizing “unnecessary” nuclear program information on Sunday after the agency’s report last week said the country was taking steps to produce uranium metal. – The Hill

Only weeks after the U.S. election and three days after an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated, Iranian authorities convicted a U.S. businessman on spying charges, a family friend said. – NBC News

Iran and six other countries lost their right to vote in the UN General Assembly, because they have not paid their dues, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s move towards producing uranium metal could only be used to produce weapons, the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom warned in a statement on Saturday. – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Saturday fired long-range ballistic missiles into the Indian Ocean on the second day of a military exercise, state media reported. – Reuters

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Monday that the country was producing almost 500 grams of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity a day, after beginning to do so earlier this month in breach of the 2015 nuclear accord. – Times of Israel

On January 8, 2021, Channel 1 (Iran) aired a report on the “Zolfaghar” UAV Drill. The report showcased Iran’s drone arsenal, including drones that can drop armor penetrating bombs. An officer explained that the drones are covered with “radar-absorbent paint” to avoid detection by the Americans. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Julian Lee writes: Should sanctions on Iran’s oil exports be lifted, the Islamic Republic will be able to resume its previous production levels of close to 4 million barrels a day relatively quickly, as it did when sanctions were last eased in 2016. But don’t count on this happening any time soon. Any initial increase in Iranian oil flows will likely be due to the country testing American resolve to police sanctions. […]The volume of crude and refined products smuggled out of Iran may creep upward in the coming months, but I expect the volumes to be modest. A flood of Iranian oil won’t come along to swamp oil’s price recovery any time soon. – Bloomberg


The company that bought the ammonium nitrate which exploded in Beirut last August had possible links to two Syrian businessmen under U.S. sanctions for ties to President Bashar al-Assad, according to a report by a Lebanese journalist and London company filings. – Reuters

Syria said on Sunday it would import more crude oil to cover fuel shortages it blames on Western sanctions that disrupted regular Iranian oil shipments that had for years compensated for the country’s loss of domestic oil production as a result of conflict. – Reuters

Israel should report security threats in Syria rather than immediately respond to them, in order to keep the country ravaged by civil war from being turned into a battlefield against Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday, according to Russian news outlet Sputnik. – Jerusalem Post


Ankara has imposed advertising bans on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest after they failed to appoint local representatives in Turkey under a new social media law, according to decisions published on Tuesday. – Reuters

Facebook Inc said on Monday it had started the process of appointing a legal entity as a local representative in Turkey in compliance with a new social media law which critics have said will muzzle dissent. – Reuters

The German and Turkish foreign ministers sought to boost prospects of better relations between Ankara and the European Union on Monday as Turkey and EU-member Greece embark on much-awaited steps to solve a long-running dispute. – Associated Press

Israel issued a statement to Turkey on Monday, in which Jerusalem stated it will not normalize its relations with Ankara until it shutters the activities of Hamas’ military wing in Istanbul – which includes directing terrorist activities in the West Bank, recruiting Palestinians for terrorist activities, financing terrorist activities in the West Bank and transferring funds to Hamas’ military infrastructure. – Ynet

Andres Schipani and Laura Pitel write: The success of Turkish television shows in Ethiopia, the powerhouse of the Horn of Africa, is a small but telling sign of Ankara’s growing influence in a region that has become a magnet for foreign capitals. Efforts at soft power, experts say, are aimed at countering the influence of Gulf rivals such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as the US, France, China and Russia. – Financial Times


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced plans for parliamentary and presidential elections for the first time in about 15 years, as the Palestinians seek to rebuild its ties with President-elect Joe Biden after falling out with the Trump administration. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s education minister says he is banning groups that call Israel an “apartheid state” from lecturing at schools — a move that targets one of the country’s leading human rights groups after it began describing both Israel and its control of the Palestinian territories as a single apartheid system. – Associated Press

With a nod to Israel’s increasingly normalized relations with the Arab world, the Pentagon is reorganizing its global command structure to include the Jewish state in the military sphere managed by the head of U.S. Central Command. – Associated Press

Israel approved on Sunday plans to build hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, projects it is advancing in the final days of the pro-settlement Trump administration. – Reuters

The United Kingdom, Ireland and Egypt condemned Israel’s decision Sunday to advance plans for 792 settlers homes in the West Bank. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets toward the southern Israeli city of Ashdod before dawn on Monday, which landed in the sea just off the coast of the city, the army said. – Times of Israel

The Palestinian Authority is set to formally request that Israel allow East Jerusalem Palestinians to participate in scheduled Palestinian national elections, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday. – Times of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to outgoing US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Sunday, saying “there was never a better ambassador.” – Algemeiner

The incoming Biden administration has told Israel that it plans to continue pursuing normalization agreements with Arab countries, according to a report from journalist Barak Ravid in Walla News. – Algemeiner

The Hamas terror group announced on Tuesday that it may postpone internal elections for the organizations leadership until after the vote for the Palestinian Authority parliament that were announced to take place in May. – Ynet

Fanny Mergui has no doubt: Moroccan Jews “are already packing their suitcases” to board direct flights to Israel after the kingdom normalised ties with the Jewish state. – Agence France-Presse

Ambassador Erdan’s letter is part of a diplomatic effort he has been leading in recent months against Iran at the UN and within the diplomatic community. As part of this campaign, he recently presented a “5-point plan” to combat global terrorism to the Security Council, which included calling for condemnations against countries that fund terrorist organizations. – Arutz Sheva

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday that he had thwarted efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to interfere in the work of the Defense Ministry by trying to stop Gantz’s plan to secure approval for Palestinian construction in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control. – Haaretz

Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet leader, on Monday called for an end to what he described as the “settler terrorism being waged by Israel in an attempt to thwart a two-state solution.” – Arutz Sheva

Efraim Inbar writes: In order to reverse Iran’s ascendance in the Middle East, prevent its nuclearization and thwart Israel’s encirclement by Iranian proxies, preemption is now more probable. – Times of Israel

El Mehdi Boudra writes: King Mohammed VI’s respectful voice of fairness and reason is needed to give Israelis (particularly those of Moroccan descent) the chance to re-examine the legitimate history and expectations of the Palestinian people and help bring about a historic compromise that will put an end to the violence of body and soul that consumes the future. – Times of Israel

Dennis Ross writes: Instead, now, what is necessary is restoring belief.  And, here there is both an opportunity, and an opening for the U.S. to play the brokering role. The Arab state normalization process with Israel is a new reality in the region.  It will go forward because it responds to Arab state interests and the Palestinians have already seen they cannot stop it. […]In this way, a U.S. brokering role now could not only build momentum behind the normalization process but also use it to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians. – Ynet

Yossi Yehoshua writes: Although both Israel’s northern and southern fronts saw military action this week, the military actions in the Gaza Strip and those against Iranian entrenchment in Syria could not be more different. […]The Syria strike proved Israeli operational and technological abilities to inflict damage to enemies a long distance away. In Gaza, however, the IDF has not been able to demonstrate the same level of success against bands of terrorists. – Ynet

David Singer writes: Failing to release the Mapping Committee’s detailed map before 20 January setting out defined borders to facilitate future Israel-PLO negotiations – should they ever be resumed – will see Trump’s two-state solution sink into political oblivion. President Trump’s opportunity to finally end the 100 years-old unresolved Jewish-Arab conflict will then become just a footnote in history – joining the failed attempts of his Presidential predecessors. – Arutz Sheva


An attack by ISIS militants on power transmission towers south of Baghdad caused the explosions mistakenly reported by regional media as US airstrikes on sites belonging to pro-Iranian militias in Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad on Monday night, Iraq’s Security Media Cell confirmed on Tuesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced Friday the U.S. had withdrawn forces in Iraq and Afghanistan down to 2,500 in each conflict zone, following through on an unusual major policy shift announced during a lame duck period and indicating that the circumstances on the ground will likely create problems for the incoming Biden administration. – US News & World Report

Munqith Dagher writes: Since the Islamic Republic of Iran represented the first model for Shia political Islam in the modern era and the practical application of the concept of guardianship of the Islamic jurist, Iran hoped (and continues to hope) that its political system would become the model adopted by Iraqi Shia when they took over leadership of Iraq’s political system in 2003. However, conditions surrounding the emergence and formation of the country’s political system after 2003, as well as the nature of Iraqi society, have prevented Iran’s wish from coming true. For all its flaws and shortcomings, the Iraqi political system has not adopted an Islamist model of governance. – Washington Institute

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia said Monday it had imposed a moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related offenses that led to an 85% reduction in executions, as the conservative Muslim kingdom seeks to soften its image to attract Western tourists and foreign investment. – Wall Street Journal

Five people who committed crimes in Saudi Arabia as minors have yet to have their death sentences revoked, according to two rights groups, nine months after the kingdom’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced an end to capital punishment for juvenile offenders. – Reuters

The outgoing Trump administration’s decision to classify Yemen’s Huthi rebels as terrorists will only cause more suffering for the people of that war-torn nation, Joe Biden’s nominee for national security advisor said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

As Saudi Arabia moves forward with an ambitious economic plan, the country’s data and artificial intelligence authority released a multiphase strategy that aims to position the nation as a global leader in the field by 2030. – C4ISRNET

William D. Hartung and Elias Yousif write: It will ultimately be up to the Biden administration to reverse the Trump administration’s last-minute arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a move the president-elect may be inclined to make given his statement that his administration will not “check its values at the door” with respect to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its role in the Yemen war.  Doing so would not only save lives in Yemen but also signal to friends and foes alike that the United States will no longer look the other way as American arms are used to empower autocrats or kill civilians. – The Hill

Gulf States

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told Bloomberg that Qatar has urged Gulf Arab nations to enter a dialogue with Iran and that it was the right time for Doha to broker negotiations. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia expects to re-open its embassy in Qatar in the coming days, Saudi’s foreign minister said on Saturday, following a U.S.-backed detente last week in a three-year-old dispute between Arab states. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates on Monday informed the Foreign Ministry that it was pushing off the implementation of a visa waiver agreement with Israel until July 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic. – Times of Israel

The United Arab Emirates can stand its ground against Saudi Arabia’s effort to redraw the Gulf’s corporate map by enticing multinationals to move their headquarters to Riyadh, according to Abu Dhabi’s Investment Office. – Bloomberg

The head of the Arab League expressed hope Monday that the Biden administration will change President Donald Trump’s policies and launch a political process supported by regional and international parties to achieve independence for the Palestinians. – Associated Press

The United States called Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates “major security partners” early Saturday, a previously unheard of designation for the two countries home to major American military operations. – Associated Press

Ebtesam al-Ketbi writes: The Emirati decision to sign a peace agreement with Israel is seen by many as a smart strategic move that will undoubtedly serve both parties, as well as the entire region. The UAE may have been the first country to take this game-changing step; however, the benefits that will surely be gained as a result of its ties with Israel will prompt more Arab countries to follow its lead. – Ynet

Middle East & North Africa

Rioting and protests have followed the 10th anniversary of a revolution that brought democracy but few material gains for most Tunisians, with anger growing at chronic joblessness and poor state services. […]London-based Amnesty International called for restraint. – Reuters

The top U.N. official for Libya said Saturday an advisory committee for representatives of Libya’s different regions has proposed a way forward for choosing a transitional government that would lead the war-torn country to elections late this year. – Associated Press

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi met on Monday with King Abdullah of Jordan in Amman to discuss regional issues, including the Palestinian election that President Mahmoud Abbas said over the weekend would take place later this year. – Haaretz

Former Egyptian ambassador to the UN Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil should be barred from hosting UN training sessions in light of anti-Israel comments he made at a November event, according to Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan. – Jerusalem Post

Bret Stephens writes: But what if Biden simply accepted that a new dynamic is at last afoot in the Middle East, and that there can be immense upsides—and more than enough credit to share—by harnessing it to American purposes? What if the new president adopted the old maxim that there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit? Even Jimmy Carter had the good sense to build on diplomatic openings created by the Nixon and Ford administrations to get to the Camp David Accords, the one lasting achievement of his presidency. – Commentary Magazine

James F. Jeffrey writes: In many ways, Trump’s priorities in the Middle East differed little from those of his two predecessors: eliminating weapons of mass destruction, supporting U.S. partners, fighting terror, and facilitating the export of hydrocarbons. In other ways, however, his administration—in which I served as envoy for both Syria and the coalition to counter the Islamic State (also known as ISIS)—oversaw a notable paradigm shift in the U.S. approach to the region. – Foreign Affairs

Michael Eisenstadt and Christine McVann write: If past is prologue, President Joe Biden’s incoming administration is likely to face early challenges in the Middle East, whether from adversaries deliberately attempting to gauge its resolve, a chance event that tests American leadership, or both. Even without intentional efforts to challenge the new president, the kaleidoscopic nature of the post-Arab Spring regional landscape ensures that incoming officials will have to deal with substantial tensions, discord, and complex diplomatic challenges involving both friends and adversaries. – Washington Institute

Mohamed Abdelaziz and David Pollock write: In the context of U.S. policy in the region, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict still ranks highest among Egyptians, unlike among Gulf Arabs today. When asked about their top priority for U.S. Middle East policy, more than a third of Egyptians (36%) now say “pushing for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” should be the top priority. But nearly as many (26%) pick “finding a diplomatic settlement for the wars in Yemen and Libya.” The option of “working to contain Iran’s influence and activities” came in third (18%). – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea appears to be taking steps toward a new test of a powerful submarine-launched missile, U.S. weapons experts said, as it steadily dials up the pressure on President-elect Joe Biden. – Washington Post

This week, just days before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration, the North Korean dictator held another parade, showing off a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. – New York Times

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden should hold talks with North Korea to build on progress that President Donald Trump had made with leader Kim Jong Un. – Reuters

South Korea’s president on Monday urged the incoming Biden administration to build upon the achievements and learn from the failures of President Donald Trump’s diplomatic engagement with North Korea. – Associated Press

Victor Cha writes: All these variables mean that the new U.S. administration could face a North Korean crisis unlike any confronting the United States before. Biden would be well-advised to keep a close watch. – Washington Post


The global coronavirus pandemic has intensified the rivalry between the U.S. and China, increasing future instability in international diplomatic relations, according to an annual report on global risks from the World Economic Forum. – Wall Street Journal

China’s geopolitical rise over the past four decades has been fueled by sizzling economic growth that regularly featured years of double-digit percentage-point gains. – Wall Street Journal

The shift comes in the midst of a deterioration in the Washington-Beijing relationship and, according to educators, predates the Covid-19 pandemic. Interest in studying Chinese on U.S. campuses has cooled, they said. – Wall Street Journal

The arrival of the Bauhinia Party has fueled furious speculation about the future of Hong Kong’s once-vibrant, at times unruly, political scene. The party, led by business executives who moved to Hong Kong from the mainland, is entering the fray amid forceful moves by the Chinese government to quash dissent, after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019 challenged its rule. – New York Times

Last July, five young men boarded a recreational boat in a remote harbor in Hong Kong. They passed through waters patrolled by the Chinese authorities and headed east, across the South China Sea. […]Now, after months in Taiwan, they intend to seek asylum in the United States, where they arrived at Kennedy International Airport in New York on Wednesday. – New York Times

A spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Beijing opposes the United States suppressing Chinese companies after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an assessment of security risks from Chinese drones. – Reuters

President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order directing U.S agencies to assess any security risks from Chinese-made drones in American government fleets and to prioritize removing them. – Reuters

U.S. officials who have engaged in “nasty behaviour” over Chinese-claimed Taiwan will face sanctions, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, after Washington lifted curbs on exchanges between U.S. and Taiwanese officials. – Reuters

The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials in response to the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which continued last week with the arrest of politicians and activists. – Financial Times

Reducing tariffs on China by even a “moderate” amount would benefit the US economy, according to a study by a business council and an economics firm. – Agence France-Presse

The US needs to work with allies and partners to compete with China in high tech, not go it alone, leaders of a bipartisan commission said Thursday. – Breaking Defense

Beijing’s top diplomat pledged Saturday to donate half a million coronavirus vaccine shots to the Philippines, Manila officials said — despite growing resistance there to Chinese-made jabs over concerns about their efficacy. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: But a closer look at the economy suggests the growth has come from somewhere other than Beijing’s putative suppression of the pandemic. China’s Communist Party reverted to its old economic-crisis playbook to goose debt and exports while tightening political dominance over the economy. […]China’s unbalanced recovery represents an enormous lost opportunity for the Chinese people. It will also eventually present a serious challenge to Mr. Xi or one of his successors. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: We welcome the Trump administration’s announcement that it will block the importation of goods made with forced Uighur labor. A Muslim minority ethnic group living in China’s Xinjiang province, the Uighurs have been subjected to a 10-year campaign of tyranny by the Communist Party. The maltreatment of these innocents has included forced sterilization, endemic repression, and the imprisonment of 2 million people in reeducation camps. – Washington Examiner

Isaac Stone Fish writes: On Jan. 14, Chinese state media published a letter from Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping to Starbucks chairman emeritus Howard Schultz that some could interpret as an open-minded plea for help. […]Xi isn’t asking Schultz and his peers to embark on an apolitical, humanitarian mission. He is asking them to lobby for Beijing. In President-elect Joe Biden’s Washington, that could have serious strategic, legal and ethical implications. And especially for the many business leaders with political aspirations like Schultz, who publicly considered running for president in 2020, it could do serious damage to their electability. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: One of the most common criticisms of the Trump administration’s approach to China was that it had “no strategy.” Now, in its waning days, officials of that administration want you to know that the U.S. government actually did have a plan, one that it was trying to implement. The fundamental problem was that President Trump himself rarely followed it. – Washington Post

Paul Salopek writes: In the blue distance beyond sprawled China. Its economic output in 2019, according to one report, hit 67 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product. The gap between China and the United States is shrinking as China is the only major economy expected to report economic growth for 2020 despite the pandemic. And brawling with itself at some crossroad truck stop far over the horizon lay my lost homeland. – New York Times

Maria Repnikova writes: The storming of the U.S. Capitol and the dramatic political fallout from that isn’t a gift for authoritarian leaders bent on denouncing America’s shortcomings so much as an opportunity for America to rebuild itself and its image worldwide. It is how America itself handles this crisis in the weeks and months ahead that will determine how this story, and America at large, ultimately is perceived by people in China, Russia and beyond. – New York Times

Peter Beyer writes: Beijing monitors its citizens more ruthlessly and efficiently than the KGB ever could; it oppresses the Uighurs, and it is erasing democracy in Hong Kong. A world in which China were to set the rules and standards during the age of technology would be less free, less democratic and less worth living in. […]There is no time to lose: China must be made to play by the international rulebook, and we can only make this happen if we act in concert. Any deadlock or disputes in the West will only give China a leg up. – Politico


The Pentagon has reduced the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, according to a statement Friday, completing a previously announced rapid drawdown despite a congressional prohibition of the move and rising levels of violence in the country. – Washington Post

In Kabul’s uncertain present, fear and dread intertwine in a vise. Fear has become a way of life. – New York Times

Nargis Mohammad Hasan was serving as an Afghan police officer when she shot and killed an American civilian adviser on Dec. 24, 2012, in Afghanistan’s capital. It was considered the first known attack by a woman in the Afghan security forces on a coalition member since the U.S. invasion in 2001. – New York Times

An angry mob ransacked a local radio station in northern Afghanistan last week after a mosque imam incited the attackers, claiming loud music played by the station had interfered with his prayer service, an international journalists group said Tuesday. – Associated Press

At least two members of an Afghan militia opened fire on their fellow militiamen in the western Herat province, killing 12, in what provincial police on Saturday described as an insider attack. – Associated Press

Unidentified gunmen killed two female judges from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court on Sunday morning, police said, adding to a wave of assassinations in Kabul and other cities while government and Taliban representatives have been holding peace talks in Qatar. – Reuters

The Taliban welcomed the latest withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan with the insurgents’ spokesman Saturday calling the continued reduction of American forces a “good advancement” even as fighting raged across the war-weary country. – Agence France-Presse

The Taliban has called on President-elect Joe Biden to honor a U.S. agreement to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan by May in order to secure intra-Afghan peace talks and end the two-decade-long war. – Bloomberg


The Trump administration said Vietnam’s currency practices, including “excessive foreign exchange market interventions,” hurt American businesses, but that it decided not to take any punitive action. – Wall Street Journal

Japan’s foreign minister accused South Korea on Monday of worsening already strained ties by making “illegal” demands for compensation for the sexual abuse of Korean women and use of forced laborers during World War II. – Associated Press

Taiwanese troops using tanks, mortars and small arms staged a drill Tuesday aimed at repelling an attack from China, which has increased its threats to reclaim the island and its own displays of military might. – Associated Press

Armenia has returned all Azeri prisoners who were captured during last year’s conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but the process with Armenian prisoners has been held up, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday. – Reuters

The following is the recently released and declassified U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific and a statement from National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. – USNI News

A Chinese government survey ship was intercepted “running dark” without broadcasting its position via AIS (Automated Information System by Indonesian officials. The incident is latest twist in an ongoing maritime saga which has also seen Chinese uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs) found in Indonesia’s territorial waters. – USNI News

Seth Cropsey writes: The State Department’s lifting of self-imposed restrictions on contact between U.S. and Taiwanese officials is a prudent step that demonstrates U.S. support for a major democratic strategic partner as well as resolve in the face of China’s growing aggressiveness. Clarity usually helps deterrence. Vagueness often discourages it. President Biden would increase clarity by taking full advantage of the door that the State Department has opened for contact between senior U.S. and Taiwanese officials. – The Hill

Michael J. Green, Bonnie S. Glaser, and Richard Bush write: Instead, the new administration should undertake its own comprehensive strategic review of Taiwan policy as part of a broader approach to restoring American leadership in Asia based on reinvigorated alliances and partnerships and commitment to democratic norms. That strategic review can and should include relaxation of the rules governing unofficial relations with Taiwan when and where those changes serve our interests and contribute to substantive support for Taipei. Dropping such policy changes on the way out the door is not the way to proceed. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged supporters to take to the streets as he was ordered to be held in pretrial custody for 30 days, while Russia’s foreign ministry warned Western countries not to interfere in a case that is already worsening tensions with the U.S. and Europe. – Wall Street Journal

Russia is selling millions of doses of its homegrown Sputnik V vaccine abroad, making it a major supplier of a shot that could give Moscow a valuable slice of the global Covid-19 vaccine market and potentially earn Russia geopolitical clout in the developing world. – Wall Street Journal

The United States  has informed Germany that it will impose sanctions on a Russian-owned ship involved in the construction of an undersea pipeline that is to carry natural gas directly to Germany from Russia, German officials said Monday. – New York Times

Russia said on Friday that it was pulling out of a decades-old treaty that allowed countries to make military reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory. – New York Times

Moscow is ready for a quick deal with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to extend the last remaining arms control pact, which expires in just over two weeks, Russia’s top diplomat said Monday. – Associated Press

European countries have criticised the arrest of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny on his return home after being poisoned and some have called for European Union sanctions against Moscow. – Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called on the Kremlin to free Russian dissident Alexei Navalny on Sunday after Navalny was detained almost immediately upon his return to the country. – The Hill

Alexey Navalny is Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, an anti-corruption investigator whose exposés have targeted President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. His return to Russia — and immediate detention — after recuperating in Germany from a nerve-agent attack he blames on the Kremlin risks creating a fresh irritant in Russia’s relationship with the West. – Bloomberg

Editorial: But rhetoric isn’t enough. Mr. Biden has promised to revive the trans-Atlantic relationship, which is a hard pledge to define. One measure would be convincing Germany, the de facto leader of Europe, to pull out of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. If that’s too hard, how about getting the European Union to sign up for extensive, joint economic sanctions with the U.S.? Mr. Navalny’s arrest shows that Mr. Putin doesn’t fear the West’s rhetorical protests. Causing him and his friends real economic pain is a different matter. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The Russian authorities are now threatening to jail Mr. Navalny upon his return, on the basis of old charges that Mr. Navalny has dismissed as politically motivated and which the European Court of Human Rights had ruled were unlawful. Mr. Navalny bravely brushes aside the threats, saying that Russia is his home. No one doubts that the bullying Russian president has the power to isolate and crush his chief opponent. But in the end, he and Russia would be the losers if he did. Mr. Putin should leave Mr. Navalny alone, to speak out freely and live freely in Russia. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: President-elect Joe Biden should correct President Trump’s weakness on Navalny’s situation. Following on his national security adviser’s welcome condemnation of Navalny’s arrest, Biden should impose further sanctions on all corporations, and corporate cutouts, that assist in the completion of Putin’s Nord Stream II energy pipeline. The loss of Nord Stream II would be a major blow to Putin’s foreign policy strategy and a welcome signal of new resistance to his aggression. – Washington Examiner

Edward Lucas writes: To keep Navalny alive, that needs to change. For a start, everyone involved in his persecution in the past, detention now, and upcoming trial needs to know that they and their money are no longer welcome in the West. No visas. No shopping. No holidays. No bank accounts. No investments. Apply the same (subject to appeal on grounds of fairness) to spouses, children, parents, and siblings. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Leonid Bershidsky writes: I don’t know if this is how Putin finally gets beaten. But Navalny’s public challenge is the most powerful the dictator has ever faced, and whatever happens to the former “Berlin patient,” I’m proud to know him; he’s a hero to my kids, too. – Bloomberg


The new U.S. president brings to the job long experience in European relations, and a nominee for secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, who is deeply knowledgeable about the Continent as well. The policy priorities of the incoming president, compared with the stated goals of his predecessor, also are more closely aligned with those of America’s traditional European allies. – Wall Street Journal

Europe is eager for “a political climate change” after Joseph R. Biden Jr. is sworn in on Wednesday, but if the new American president is preoccupied with troubles at home it is prepared to move ahead in key areas on its own, European leaders and analysts say. – New York Times

Two Syrians have been charged in Germany for alleged links to a terrorist organization on suspicion they were involved in the killing of an army officer in their homeland in 2012, prosecutors said Monday. – Associated Press

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday announced the expulsion of two Dutch diplomats in a quid pro quo move. – Associated Press

Boris Johnson’s plan to host an expanded Group of Seven summit in June is worrying some other members who fear the U.K. may be trying to reshape the forum of wealthy nations via the back door. – Bloomberg

Hungary is to host the only Chinese university operating inside the EU in a sign of deepening ties between the government of Viktor Orban and Beijing. – Financial Times

Brussels is set to warn that global markets are too reliant on the dollar as it seeks ways of curbing Europe’s vulnerability to US sanctions and other financial risks, in a challenge to the currency’s supremacy just days before Joe Biden’s inauguration as president. – Financial Times

Jewish community leaders in Belgium have expressed outrage at the publication of an official brochure that “glorifies” two collaborators with the Nazi occupation during World War II. – Algemeiner

The European Commission wants to rally governments behind France-based Arianespace in the face of competition from upstarts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has upended the space industry by slashing the cost of launching satellites thanks to its breakthrough in developing reusable rockets. – Politico

Hungary faced a grilling Monday as the EU’s highest court heard a case involving firearms, allegations of political interference and criticism of the country’s judicial system. – Politico

Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a “tight” vote in Parliament as lawmakers from his Conservative Party plan to rebel and press for British judges to determine if China’s Muslim Uighur minority is suffering genocide. – Bloomberg


At stake has been the stability of a country whose troops have spent more than a decade at the forefront of a U.S.-backed regional fight against the al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab in Somalia. Ugandan troops have also intervened to quell insurgencies in eastern Congo and South Sudan. Uganda’s prominent role in U.S.-led military operations has ensured vast sums of American aid keeps rolling into the country—totaling $936 million in 2019. – Wall Street Journal

The State Department’s assistant secretary for African affairs, Tibor Nagy, tweeted Friday that Uganda’s election was “fundamentally flawed” and that the United States was assessing options to respond. But, to many critics of Museveni, such statements are undercut by the U.S. aid money — totaling $936 million in 2019 — that just keeps coming. – Washington Post

The U.S. military says its troop withdrawal from Somalia is complete, in one of the last actions of President Donald Trump’s presidency. – Associated Press

A United Nations peacekeeper from Egypt was killed in Mali’s northern Kidal region on Friday, and another was seriously injured, after their vehicle hit an explosive device during a logistics convoy, the U.N. said. – Associated Press

Uganda’s government spokesman accused the United States on Tuesday of trying to subvert last week’s presidential elections after the U.S. ambassador attempted to visit an opposition leader being held under house arrest. – Reuters

Militia fighters staged a deadly attack in Sudan’s Darfur on Monday, residents said, as doctors said the death toll from a separate attack that began two days earlier in the region had risen to more than 100. – Reuters

Jihadists aligned with the Islamic State militant group have captured a military base in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state after overnight clashes with troops, sources told AFP on Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

Latin America

The U.S. warned Mexico it had imperiled the sharing of information on the country’s drug cartels by releasing a confidential dossier providing evidence that Mexico’s former defense minister was in the pay of drug kingpins, pushing bilateral antidrug cooperation to its lowest point in years. – Wall Street Journal

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Friday accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of fabricating drug charges against Mexico’s former defense minister, an allegation analysts said would further strain bilateral relations and security cooperation between both nations. – Wall Street Journal

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador lashed out at the Drug Enforcement Administration on Friday, accusing it of fabricating a narcotics case against Mexico’s former defense secretary, in comments that underscored the fragile state of relations with Washington as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office. – Washington Post

When U.S. officials agreed to hand back over to Mexico a former defense minister whom they had accused of being on a drug cartel’s payroll, they did it in hopes of salvaging the badly fraying security cooperation between the two countries. – New York Times

A close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said Friday he’s hopeful the Biden administration will roll back a “cruel” sanctions policy and instead give room for diplomacy that could lead to the reopening of the U.S. Embassy and the release of several jailed American citizens. – Associated Press

Battered by their worst economic crisis in decades, ordinary Cubans are hoping that US president-elect Joe Biden will bring them better times, remembering his role in Barack Obama’s administration which eased sanctions and restored full diplomatic relations. – Financial Times

The main community center serving Argentina’s Jews on Monday called for “truth” and “justice” to prevail in the case of Alberto Nisman, on the sixth anniversary of the federal prosecutor’s assassination. – Algemeiner

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday that tensions with the United States over the case of a former defense minister accused of cartel ties would not affect cooperation. – Agence France-Presse

Patrick Duddy writes: The April summit will give Biden a chance to speak frankly with fellow leaders about the challenges he faces at home and the reasons why their cooperation could be good for all. While he is well-liked in the region, the Obama-Biden administration showed little interest in the region outside of assistance to Haiti after the earthquake of 2010. Latin America will welcome a change from President Trump’s strident nationalism, but it needs convincing that the new administration is interested in more than a rhetorical change. – The Hill

Ana Quintana writes: While allies of the incoming administration are pushing the administration to depart from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy, Biden’s team should leverage this opportunity. The period following a terrorism designation requires lengthy reviews and assessments by various government agencies to determine which goods and services cannot be exported or transferred. Agencies must certify that items entering Cuba from the U.S. do not serve a dual purpose and cannot be used for terrorism. – The Daily Signal

United States

In his Tuesday hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Blinken plans to sketch out a vision in which the U.S. has a central role in wrestling with global problems, uses alliances and international institutions to try to expand its leverage and pursues policies that it can argue benefit the American middle class. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. defense officials say the federal government is conducting insider-threat screening on the 25,000 National Guard troops who have begun flowing into the nation’s capital to secure the inauguration, as concerns intensify about extremism in the ranks. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made near-daily announcements of major foreign policy actions, many of which appear designed to cement Trump priorities and create roadblocks to new directions charted by the incoming Biden team. – Washington Post

In the aftermath of President Trump’s banishment from social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, a handful of world leaders have expressed alarm over the power of private companies to decide if and when to ban elected leaders from key parts of the public arena. – Washington Post

The FBI privately warned law enforcement agencies Monday that far-right extremists have discussed posing as National Guard members in Washington and others have reviewed maps of vulnerable spots in the city — signs of potential efforts to disrupt Wednesday’s inauguration, according to an intelligence report obtained by The Washington Post. – Washington Post

In nearly two weeks since the assault, the Justice Department has charged more than 100 people — mostly individuals who revealed themselves as participating in the Jan. 6 riot through social media boasts. But the weekend arrests of people with alleged ties to extremist groups reflects the FBI’s increasing attention to the more prepared, organized and determined groups among the larger mass of rioters. – Washington Post

An extensive new report published today on U.S. national security says it would be a mistake to ignore the outgoing administration’s foreign policy in the aftermath of last week’s riot in Washington D.C. The report, by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), said last week’s violence “will forever tarnish” Trump’s place in U.S. history, and it issued a set of recommendations for the incoming Biden administration that it says it should follow. – Fox News

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said Monday that while law enforcement officials are vetting National Guard troops stationed in the nation’s capital, authorities have “no intelligence indicating an insider threat” to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration this week. – The Hill

President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday filled out his State Department team with a group of former career diplomats and veterans of the Obama administration, signaling his desire to return to a more traditional foreign policy after four years of uncertainty and unpredictability under President Donald Trump. – Associated Press

Top officials in Canada want a chance to make the case for a long disputed oil pipeline to be built amid reports President-elect Joe Biden will cancel Keystone XL. – Associated Press

US President-elect Joe Biden’s senior foreign-policy appointments are reason for concern when it comes to the Iran nuclear threat, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in a final interview with The Jerusalem Post before he leaves office on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The incoming Biden administration’s announcement that it has picked Wendy Sherman as deputy US secretary of state tilts the balance toward a return to the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel will likely object to more than any other appointment to date. – Jerusalem Post

A young woman identified as having taken part in the storming of the US Capitol reportedly stole a laptop from top Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s office and hoped to sell it to a Russian spy agency, according to an FBI criminal complaint. – Agence France-Presse

John Bolton writes: The impetus for INF withdrawal was that it didn’t bind China—the bulk of whose ballistic-missile inventory would violate the treaty—nor the likes of Iran and North Korea. Russia’s noncompliance, China’s absence, and the rogue-state proliferators meant that the U.S. was the only country in the world actually complying with INF limits. Beijing’s surging rearmament won’t stop because of resumed U.S.-Russian constraints on launchers, but that reinforces why China must be included in any follow-on New Start. – Wall Street Journal

Greg Starr and Ronald E. Neumann write: Diplomatic functions — to influence host governments and other foreigners; to explain, defend and advance U.S. policies and objectives; and to gain information and access needed to conduct analyses — require making personal contact. Diplomacy is an incremental business in which numerous contacts and observations contribute over time to generate larger results. Secure telephone technology and video can supplement traditional meetings, but they cannot substitute for building personal relations and trust with foreign contacts. – The Hill


After a year of startling growth, the tech industry faces a more vexing 2021. The pandemic helped bring the world’s tech giants such as Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to new heights in 2020. The shift to online shopping and remote working accelerated at a pace that would have been inconceivable without the coronavirus. But there are signs the good times may end soon. – Wall Street Journal

A new coalition of cybersecurity and tech groups is looking to create a roadmap for countering the surge of ransomware attacks that plagued city governments, schools and hospitals in 2020. – The Hill

Radar engineers on the Tempest fighter program have said they expect to break data-processing records. The secret, they explain, is all about miniaturization and going digital. – C4ISRNET

The massive SolarWinds hack was exposed just as the Pentagon was, ironically, rolling out a new approach to cybersecurity. The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification is designed to ensure companies in the Pentagon’s supply chain are as secure as they claim to be. – Breaking Defense

The Trump administration notified Huawei suppliers, including chipmaker Intel, that it is revoking certain licenses to sell to the Chinese company and intends to reject dozens of other applications to supply the telecommunications firm, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. – Reuters


Surface warfare leaders throughout the Navy last week mused about how to employ new classes of ships such as the Littoral Combat Ship and Expeditionary Sea Base, as the fleet transitions to a new type of operations against peer competitors. – USNI News

According to the Army, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) Family of Vehicles (FoV) is an Army-led, joint-service program designed to replace a portion of each service’s light tactical wheeled vehicle fleets.  – USNI News

The first hull in a new Navy ship class in more than a decade is set to start construction later this year, the service’s program manager said this week. – USNI News

The senior admiral directing the strategic systems program placed a strong emphasis on the rigorous testing of modernized Trident missiles to ensure their accuracy and reliability, as the Navy transitions from the Ohio-class to the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. – USNI News

The U.S. Department of Defense’s weapons tester recommended that the Army delay fielding decisions for radios and other communications gear from its most recent integrated tactical network toolset until a brigade has a chance to test them fully in March. – C4ISRNET

Pentagon investment in missile defense from 2020 through 2029 may total a whopping $176 billion, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a new study. This estimate represents a $50 billion increase from CBO’s previous 2017-2026 missile defense cost review — or $5 billion per year. – Breaking Defense

The Biden team is making a clean break at the top of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership, with Navy acquisition chief James Geurts joining Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite in leaving the building by Jan. 20. – Breaking Defense

The United States could not make enough military equipment fast enough to sustain its military in the event of a major war. While much thought has been given to how a great power conflict might erupt or play out, far less has been written on how the U.S. industrial base could sustain U.S. wartime equipment losses in such a conflict. – Breaking Defense

Pentagon investment in missile defense from 2020 through 2029 may total a whopping $176 billion, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a new study. This estimate represents a $50 billion increase from CBO’s previous 2017-2026 missile defense cost review — or $5 billion per year. – Breaking Defense

Stephen Young writes: Having U.S. weapons on high alert significantly increases the risk of an accidental launch, with potentially catastrophic outcomes, and is a bigger danger than a surprise attack by an adversary. The incoming Biden administration can reduce that risk and make the country safer by taking U.S. land-based missiles off launch-ready alert, regardless of what Russia does. U.S. deterrence against a Russian nuclear attack is strong whether U.S. missiles are on alert because the Pentagon has more than enough warheads on invulnerable submarines capable of responding. – Washington Post

Thomas Spoehr writes: No single approach is adequate to identify a realistically optimal defense budget. A proper analysis should incorporate elements of all three perspectives, with a bias toward the strategic assessment. Leaders and national security professionals should arm themselves with as many data points as possible, giving particular weight to the results of well-conducted wargaming and analyses of the adequacy of a proposed Defense Department force to execute the national defense strategy. – Heritage Foundation